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The association between one’s attentional bias, and the way they perceive body images, rumination, and eating disorder symptoms in young women is considered to be a key factor of cognitive vulnerability. A combination of experimental and correlational studies have concluded that media exposure to thin-bodied women correlates with women’s vulnerability to body image disturbances as well as unbalanced eating practices, habits, or behaviors. Individuals that present an attentional bias towards thin-ideal imagery may be that much more vulnerable in an environment where certain stimuli are present versus others.
Theoretical and empirical evidence has implied that attentional biases towards body shape, for instance being exposed to the ideal thin body in a media setting, and how that can present an important role in the development and/or maintenance of symptoms of an eating disorder (Dondzilo, Rieger, Palermo, Byrne, & Bell, 2017). As exposure to thin ideal images of women cause these biases to arise from an unrealistic scheme of their own self-evaluation that stems from the obsession of evaluating meals, shape, weight, and how they control it. Several different methods have been used to measure the attentional bias that will trigger the symptoms of an eating disorder. Recent research has established a correlation between selective attention for thin body types and body dissatisfaction in samples of women participating in a behavioral assessment of selective attention in a non-clinical setting. In the study conducted by Dondzilo, Rieger, Palermo, & Bell (2018), the participant is presented with a pair of stimuli such as a thin body image as well as a neutral stimulus on a computer screen. The images were followed by a probe (either the letter p or q) and the participant responded by designating the corresponding letter on the keyboard in order to replace one of the stimuli on the screen. Immediate response to probes that replaced the thin body image concluded an attentional bias to thin bodies.
Body dissatisfaction can also correlate with attentional biases as body dissatisfaction (BD) increases with mass media exposure (Cho & Lee, 2013). BD is fairly common for individuals who are influenced by cultural values such as the media and the ideal thin, youthful body image of women. Society as well as the media influences our ideas of beauty and youth which then leads to the increasing discrepancy between the ideal thin body image and one’s own body image. In the study conducted by Cho and Lee (2013), attentional biases of 39 men and 41 women with low and high BD toward muscular female and male bodies were measured. An eye-tracker was used to measure the gaze of the participants as well as the fixation frequencies all while being exposed to images of thin, muscular, or fat body types of the same gender.
Even though the study concluded that men attended to muscular bodies and women tended to thin bodies, both men and women showed attentional bias more so towards body types they found personally attractive. Body dissatisfaction can lead to negative self-image and self-esteem all of which can lead to serious eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa (AN).
A study conducted by Pinhas, Fok, Chen, Lam, Schachter, Eizenmen, Grupp, and Eizenman (2014), measures the exploratory eye movements of the attentional biases to body shape in young adults who themselves suffer from AN. Thin body shape images, fat body images, and social interaction based photographs were shown to AN patients, all of which spent the most viewing time on either fat or thin body types, than they did of social interactions. These AN patients determined there is in fact a large amount of attentional biases in their visual scanning behavior toward either body type.
Body dissatisfaction and body image disturbance are both well-known characteristics of eating disorders. In the study conducted by Jansen, Nederkoorn, and Mulkens (2005), much like one mentioned before by Pinhas et al. (2014), measured the eye movement of participants looking at their own ugly and beautiful body parts. Data concluded selective attention and attentional bias to one’s own “ugly” body parts versus “beautiful.” Body image and body dissatisfaction commonly result in eating disorders and cognitive vulnerability. The results of the study conducted by Dondzilo et al. (2018) suggested that attentional bias towards thin-ideal body images are caused due to negative emotional vulnerability.
This research is significant as a majority of similar studies measure selective attention for thin body types but not overweight body types. Selective attention to thin-ideal bodies causes a trigger in negative effect in addition to eating disorder rumination, and we are looking to determine if fat body types cause the same negative effects in participants. The current study would add more validity to this type of research as eating disorders are not only about being underweight, but overweight as well. This study can assist in the resulting relationship between fat body types and emotional vulnerability. We are interested in how individuals trained to attend to fat body types would demonstrate increased negative mood and eating disorder specific rumination, in response to a body image related stressor.
The current experiment will be conducted to evaluate whether attentional bias towards fat, overweight body types casually present a relationship with emotional and ruminative vulnerability in young women. A study conducted by Dondzilo et al. (2018) influenced the hypothesis of the current study which is, it is hypothesized that the individuals who are trained to attend to overweight body types would express an increase in negative mood and eating disorder specific rumination in correspondence to being exposed to a body image related stressor, compared with the group of individuals trained to avoid overweight bodies.
The participants of this study consisted of 100 female undergrad students attending school at Colorado State University. Participants were Caucasian, (neither Hispanic or Latino) between the ages of 17 and 24 with a mean body mass index (BMI) of 22.04. Participants included in this study will be awarded course credit for their cooperation and will be recruited from the Psychology and Behavioral Science program at Colorado State University.
The participants in this study will all be mandated to undergo a training program using a dot probe task, much like the one used in the study by Dondzilo et al. (2018). A modified dot probe task was used to manipulate the attentional biases of participants towards fat, overweight body types. Participants were then presented with two side by side images, one being of a fat body type and the other of a neutral piece of art. Then, a stimulating probe will take place of one of the images by using the letters A or B. After the stimulating probe has appeared, participants are then asked to recall and identify the letter as quick as possible by pressing A or B on the keyboard. After participants responded to the stimulus, the next set of pictures will appear. Both assessment and training attentional trials are included in this study. Attentional assessment trials are the stimulating probes that were used to replace either the fat body image or the social interaction image. In this assessment trial, the stimulus pair was shown 6 times (Dondzilo et al., 2018).
The attentional training trial is how the stimulating probe is presented (which image it takes the place of). Participants who were in the “attend fat bodies” condition, the stimulus was presented where the fat body type was previously displayed. As far as the “avoid fat bodies” condition, the stimulus took the place of the social interaction picture. In this case, the pairs were presented 12 times.
Participants were also presented with a body-image related stressor that was used to induce body dissatisfaction and negative mood. Participants were then asked to infer how they would feel personally, think, and do if they were experiencing this specific scenario. A portion of the scenario was, “Imagine yourself waking up, you go to look in the mirror and you sign with a huge feeling of sadness. Its been days, weeks even, since you last ate. You’re skinny, frail, and sickly looking. You promised yourself you would not let this happen again but here you are.”
Once we have gained informed consent from all of the participants, they all then went on to complete the dot probe task specified to assess pre-training attentional bias. After the pre training dot probe task was completed, participants were then told to complete a state and a trait measure of eating disorder specific rumination and negative mood. Subjective state ratings are used to alter one’s eating disorder specific rumination in causation of an increase in negative mood. Participants filled out a 100-part analogue scale with the answers ranging from not at all to very likely. The Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS-21) is a self-report survey consisting of 21 questions. Participants are then asked to rate each question from 0-3 (did not apply to most of the time). Higher scores indicated greater body disturbance. The last scale used was the Ruminative Response Scale for Eating Disorders (RRS-ED). The RRS-ED acknowledges ruminative thinking about body shape, weight, and/or eating. Participants were asked to record the frequency of how often they experience ruminative symptoms. They rated their answers on a 4-point scale (never to always). The higher the participant scored, the higher the amount of eating disorder rumination was present.
Finally, participants will be randomly selected to be included in the “attend” or “avoid” training condition. Post training assessment trials immediately followed the attentional training trials. Then, participants pare exposed to the body image related stressor. Afterwards they will complete the state measures of negative mood and eating disorder-oriented rumination. Once finished with all research measures, height and weight of all participants was recorded in order to determine BMI.
- Cho, A., & Lee, J. (2013). Body dissatisfaction levels and gender differences in attentional biases toward idealized bodies. Body Image,10(1), 95-102. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2012.09.005
- Dondzilo, L., Rieger, E., Palermo, R., Byrne, S., & Bell, J. (2017). Correction: The mediating role of rumination in the relation between attentional bias towards thin female bodies and eating disorder symptomatology. Plos One,13(4). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0196143
- Dondzilo, L., Rieger, E., Palermo, R., & Bell, J. (2018). The causal role of selective attention for thin-ideal images on negative affect and rumination. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry,61, 128-133. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2018.07.006
- Jansen, A., Nederkoorn, C., & Mulkens, S. (2005). Selective visual attention for ugly and beautiful body parts in eating disorders. Behaviour Research and Therapy,43(2), 183-196. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2004.01.003
- Pinhas, L., Fok, K., Chen, A., Lam, E., Schachter, R., Eizenman, O., Eizenman, M. (2014). Attentional biases to body shape images in adolescents with anorexia nervosa: An exploratory eye-tracking study. Psychiatry Research,220(1-2), 519-526. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2014.08.006
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